Carry a gun long enough, and at some point, the sights will be hard to see when you need them to be sharp and clear. Whether it be the swiftly gathering dark in the woods, an alley, or just from the effect of time on the eyes, it will happen. So how can we make pistol sights more visible?
There are several options I know of that will help you to make your sights easier to see. Sight clarity is not a new problem, and the solutions have gotten better as time has progressed. Below are the top four most common methods to improve sight visibility: Colorizing the sites, fiber optic sites, glow in the dark sights, and optics. Let us dive in.
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Option 1: Colorize your sights
Adding color is the oldest and least expensive around and typically involves painting the front sight (sometimes the rear sight too) with a bright color to provide contrast in low light. The usual favorites are white, pink, and orange. White-out from the desk drawer was a favorite of policemen back in the days of revolvers. A modern reincarnation of this is the white three-dot or dot and u-notch found on new handguns like the Glock 19.
The paint needs to be flat to work well since gloss can glare. Another downside is that on sunny days the bright paint can be harder to see against a light background or in bright sunlight. In this case, a matte black sight setup can be very beneficial. Novak LoMount sights are a perfect example of a matte black sight setup.
If your sights are a little too shiny, smoke from a dirty flame, like from a cheap candle or pine tar, can be used to darken gun sights temporarily. Smoking the sights is a common pre-match trick used by target shooters to cut glare and gain some sight definition.
Option 2: Fiber Optic
Adding fiber optic sights to your handgun is a solid way to add significant sight visibility without spending a ton of money. Fiber optics sights use an exposed, colored tube to gather the available light. The end of the tube is open and facing the shooter. The light gathered causes the end of the tube to glow, making it stand out.
For even more definition, make the front and rear sights different colors. For example, a red front sight and green rear dots would make line-up in low light easy. Truglo and HiViz are big names in this category with proven products. Williams is another good option, their FireSight sights are not overly large and offer good precision. I had them on my Marlin .22 Magnum rifle and loved them for rabbits in the brush. They stood out from the background much better than a plain sight. Now I want to upgrade my Single Six with them before squirrel season opens this year.
Option 3: Glow in the Dark
Sometimes, there is not any light available. If these are the situations in which you may find yourself, I highly recommend a sight system that brings its own light.
Some sight systems use a phosphorescent paint or plastic that can be held under light to “charge” and will emit that light back out as a faint glow. The glow will last for about thirty minutes or so. Phosphorescent sights are the cheaper of the “after dark” options and are popular in locations where tritium sights are restricted, like Canada.
Speaking of tritium sights, these are the original glow-in-the-dark items. These sites hold sealed housings containing radioactive tritium gas and phosphorescent paint. The radiation stimulates the paint, causing it to glow. The glow will never go out, but tritium has a half-life of twelve-ish years and will begin to dim after that time.
Another low-budget option I’ve seen used in a pinch was to activate a chem-light and paint the weapon sight with the glowing liquid inside. (This is how an acquaintance of mine passed his pre-deployment night qualification back in the day) It lasts a few hours and will get the job done but, your hands and weapon may get covered in glowing dots in the process if you are not careful.
Option 4: Optics
Putting an optic on a handgun has become easy these days. Not long ago optic mounted handguns were the domain of competitive shooters and hunters. Now, the handgun-mounted optic is now almost standard thanks to most new weapons having an integral mounting surface on the slide.
The optics themselves are getting better, with more durable construction and better battery life. Some companies like Trijicon advertise up to four years of battery life. That’s a far cry from the old cheapie watch battery-powered sights I had years ago. Those seem to go dead within an hour or break on the first impact.
A slide-mounted reflex sight like the Vortex Venom or Burris FastFire can increase your target acquisition speed and accuracy. There is only one sight to focus on versus lining up both the front and rear while watching the target. Most optics allow for the size and or brightness of the dot to be adjusted for precision, ease of acquisition, or eye comfort. These sights are about as visible as they can get.
Another advantage to some reflex optics is that they can be installed and used without disrupting the use of iron sights. On some installations, the dot from the sight may even roughly line up with the iron sights. This is called co-witnessing and is a fast way to get on paper with a new optic.
So, how to make pistol sights more visible? In short, paint them, make them glow, or light them up. I prefer matte black sights on my pistols, but none of mine accept optics. If they did I would probably have a reflex optic on 10mm Auto that I carry deer hunting. As we have seen, there is an option for every budget. So there is no reason that you should not be able to see the sights on your pistol.
So, what is your preferred option for increasing the visibility of your sights? Let me know in the comments below.